Let’s talk about the National Committee for Games Policy


The “National Committee for Games Policy” is such an official sounding title for such a vague organization. I’ve been following this group’s interactions with the public since they started making waves a week ago. It’s kind of interesting how quickly coverage of them ceased since they (or he – it’s not even entirely clear that more than one person is really involved here) have continued to evolve their story in response to questions and criticism leveled at them. All of the articles about them at this point are severely outdated by now. perhaps more information is being gathered by better journalists than I. A response on the Reddit AMA they did recently suggests they may be getting in contact with Jim Sterling, but with how vague their other response are I somehow severely doubt that.

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Perhaps the most fascinating change to this organization is how their membership has changed. When they first made the announcement, the organization was invite only, and was apparently meant to be comprised of a select, small group of politicians and game developers (though that itself is suspect given its supposed founding members) that would somehowsteer policy in regards to game regulation. Now, however, membership is open for everyone who applies. Given that, I sent in my own application, and received a prompt series of replies from “Director of the Steering Committee” Kenneth Tran explaining that their membership now has two tiers: Committee and Affiliated, with the latter having the option to remain completely anonymous if they wished. Upon accepting the offer to join (which took no further action on my part), I received a sort of welcome package e-mail  for new members. The contents are fascinating, and I will post them below, discussing each section in turn.

The NCGP

Hello NCGP members and affiliated,

After our launch and membership drive, we are now here to get down to the business we invited you all here for orientation!

Please see the details for our advanced counter-infiltration system (ACIS).

NCGP ACIS

  • You have been assigned a user account. We do not track you in any way, so we do not know your login habits.
  • If you decide to leave the organization and resign, you need to appoint your successor who will take your position either from within the committee or outside of the committee.
  • When resigning, you may re-enter at any time, although re-entry means you may be given a new account and alias
  • There is at least one double agent placed in the current membership. The double agent is placed there to keep your identity safe and lure out any possible moles.
  • It is impossible to troll within the members portal and blogs
  • We have a safeguard named “ghosts”. Meaning if you at any time decide to step out of the public eye and into anonymous mode, we will create a persona for you which you will use to operate anonymously, while publicly foregoing any responsibility or duties.
  • More details will be released in the coming weeks.

 

The interesting thing to note here is the inconsistent level of secrecy. While there is much mention made of “double agents”, “ghosts”, and potential “moles”, I was not asked to sign any sort of NDA to become affiliated, nor even asked to keep the contents of this e-mail private. The organization seems concerned primarily with anonymity within the site itself, but has little concern for (or perhaps thought given) to any of the details of the site being moved off of it.

Discussions

  • You will not know the identity of the other members you are discussing
  • Discussions will take place through the anonymous discussion board (release this week), private profile messaging (one on one), and via the broadcast system (in development).
  • If you have a dissenting opinion, or feel very strongly about your point, you are free to voice your concerns through your personal member blogs which can be set to public or members only. There is no approval, simply submit and it will appear on the website.
  • All discussions will be sent to politicians through our unique reporting system.
  • The reporting system is designed as the following: politicians will be entering as anonymous members periodically and this is how they will view the reports. We do not track their usage, as with all members, and do not guarantee that they have read your particular message unless otherwise noted, although all members will be alerted when one enters the system at a random interval, ie. a cluster of politician accounts mixed with both normal and double agent accounts enters, and then the announcement they have entered will be randomized either before, during, or after they enter, but always promptly at around entry date.
  • There are currently politicians already in the system
  • Do not impersonate a politician as it is a federal crime to do so. At the same time, do not reveal if you are a politician when asked. If you need an affidavit from the NCGP, we can provide you with one for legal purposes.

This too seems inordinately concerned with secrecy within the site. The NCGP seems to want to create a private members only forum that can be accessed by politicians that are account holders so that they may view discussions anonymously. This is incredibly counter-intuitive to my view as it is essentially an extremely roundabout and overly convoluted way to do this. Simply creating a discussion forum (which “affiliates” can post in publicly)  and making it public could serve the same purpose: Politicians can have the discussions forwarded to them and view the discussions as non-members. Their activity would only be logged as an anonymous guest user in any case, and the same end result is had. My theory is this is an attempt to add legitimacy via conflating that with complexity. It’s inefficient, but it sure does look like a cool spy movie thing to do.

Progress news:

  • We made our first private donation towards legislation under the NCGP name to the Republican Party
  • In addition, we have received an invitation to attend a Christmas party for Orange County, California supervisor Shawn Nelson. Please email the admin if you are in the area (date removed by author).
  • Tomorrow we will have a visitor from the Green Party

For clarity, my e-mail was received on December 2nd, so “tomorrow” was, in fact, yesterday (December 3rd, 2017).

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This all sounds impressive, but none of it has been confirmed as actually happening as of yet. Any of this being confirmed by an outside source would be helpful, though I can at least confirm that the office of Shawn Nelson is holding a Christmas party on the date specified in the e-mail (which I removed due to the office expressing a desire for the party to not be flooded by any random people that might think it fun to go to a county office for a party whatever reason), so that information is accurate. It is less impressive than it may seem, however, as it is an open party: Any are allowed to attend, and Supervisor Nelson expressed confusion as to who the NCGP are at all and had never heard of them even when I tried to explain who they were. That makes it doubtful that invitations were given out for more reasons than one.

This month’s topic is, of course, Loot boxes and the associated controversy.

After the press conference where Hawaii lawmaker Chris Lee announced his intention to legislate against loot boxes as a form of online gambling, we realized the enormous importance of having a group of experts available to advise and inform lawmakers who may be gamers but are not industry professionals. As such, we will have a series of questions and prompts. If nothing fits, there is a section at the end for individual thoughts.

  • What is your definition of gambling/how would you like politicians to see gambling in the games industry?
  • Do you think systems which use random chance to assign rewards, regardless of cost, are gambling?
  • Do you think systems which use random chance to assign rewards and cost are gambling?
  • If you feel that such systems are not gambling, should there be any limits on such systems?
  • If you have any ideas for resolving this situation without legislative action?
  • Do you think consumer boycotts will force a change in practices without legislative action? If so, how quickly will such a change occur?
  • How should we respond to consumer and parental complaints as an industry?
  • Where, in terms of currently existing business practices, would the line between gambling and systems which use random chance to assign rewards lie?
  • Other thoughts on the topic.

You can answer the questions by replying to the email you received or preferably on your members blog (whether public or private it is your choice). The discussion board will be up shortly and notice will be sent out via email, along with the next set of updates.

Expect more questions and emails on this topic as the discussion evolves.

Next month, what topics would you like to see covered?

 

Signed,

 

Director

Steering Committee

This is the least interesting part of the e-mail, being primarily just discussion prompts for a site that does everything it can to discourage discussion with its specific brand of anonymity. It has the worst of both worlds when it comes to registering an account vs posting anonymously and numerous other problems. As a result, it may not surprise you that the super secret private forums you sign up to gain access to contains only one article (or at least, only one made publicly readable): Their Vice Chair, Jack Wegrich, is stepping down for a variety of reasons. The most telling of which is that his sum total of industry experience is “essentially acting as [Kenneth Tran’s] secretary”, in his own words.

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There were many giving the NCGP the benefit of the doubt in the last round of coverage. Sure, they were run by a self-proclaimed internet troll, their website was unprofessional (and is now worse), and their claims were dubious, but maybe that’s simply the result of a few well-meaning people in over their heads. I think it’s less and less likely that is the case as this goes on. This wouldn’t be the first time someone had created an elaborate story and a website for the purpose of trolling (The Survivor, 2299 springs to mind…), and it seems more likely those with no idea of what they’re doing would err on the side of saying too much, rather than too little, and not talking up non-accomplishments like being invited to an open party.


 

I had intended to leave off about there, but even as I wrote this a slight update came in. First, they have debuted a “Champions” program” where they publicly endorse a political candidate they feel will advocate for the games industry, as detailed in this e-mail:

Mayor Ryan Reynolds becomes a champion for the video games industry, the loot box crisis; receives NCGP support The National Committee for Games Policy (NCGP), a public policy think tank and self regulatory organization, made an announcement today regarding their progress in the ongoing loot box controversy. After various internal discussions, the steering committee has decided to start a “champions” program in an effort to raise awareness on the issues facing the video games community and industry. The champions program is designed to support both directly and indirectly candidates or office holders in the United States who can become advocates for the games industry. These select champions will be key figures in the intersection of video games, public policy, and law. While they are not members of the NCGP, they are officially endorsed by the NCGP. Champions may be in any political party and may be affiliated with persons or organizations not endorsed by the NCGP. Champions campaign on platforms with a variety of issues of which the NCGP does not bring any official commentary on. It is with great excitement that the NCGP has endorsed Ryan Reynolds, Mayor of Whitney Point, New York as a video games champion. On receiving the endorsement, Mayor Reynolds made the follow statement: “While many have been steered to this discussion by the recent controversy surrounding loot boxes, this is about much more than that. Videogames, government and politics will continue to intersect as the gaming industry continues to grow and expand. There is and will continue to be a need for individuals working in government who understand both gamers as consumers and game developers. As an elected official with seven years of experience as well as a life long gamer and someone who has worked in game journalism in the past, I believe that I can be one of those individuals. The goal is to create a greater understanding of the gaming industry not only in government but also with consumers themselves. Communication between developers and consumers is essential to building a gaming industry that is both stronger and more fair to consumers and developers, alike. As part of the champions program, Mayor Reynolds will be receiving a contribution from the NCGP. For more information on the NCGP visit its new website at www.thencgp.com. Gamers, game developers, and other members of the public can apply for membership through the website at zero cost.

This seems largely meaningless as this is an organization few have seemingly heard of made up of people that have no political sway endorsing someone with a very small political reach, but it’s interesting. As a hoax, it’s quite amusing, though if it’s an attempt to effect actual change and be legitimized it’s kind of sad. Side note, their domain has changed from ncgp.ga to ncgp.com, for unknown reasons, but the site seems unchanged as of now despite this shift.

#Let’s talk about the National Committee for Games Policy

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